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News | April 27, 2021

U.S. Army-delivered helipad projects at hospitals in Croatia to hasten emergency medical care and save lives

By Christopher Gardner U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe District

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is delivering three modern helicopter landing zones at hospitals across Croatia to help reduce transportation times in emergency situations and ultimately save lives.

The helicopter landing zone projects are funded through the United States European Command, or EUCOM, and are being delivered in close coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb.

The project involves building helicopter landing zones at hospitals in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, as well as Karlovac to the west of the capital and Slavonski Brod further east in the country.

“These helicopter landing zones will provide critical capabilities to allow medical service providers to quickly bring patients to and from hospitals,” U.S. Chargé d'Affaires in Croatia Victoria Taylor said earlier this year at an event celebrating work at one of the helicopter landing zones in Karlovac.

The project will enable medical helicopters to be able to reach and serve approximately half of all of Croatia’s population within the critical “golden hour” associated with significantly improved outcomes in emergency trauma response. Helicopters transporting emergency patients will be able to reach patients across roughly two thirds of the country’s area once all three helicopter landing zones are complete.

“These three hospitals are the ones that mainly service most of the population of Croatia, these aren’t like small clinics, these are big hospitals with operating rooms and other capabilities,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Engineer Angela Tugaoen said. “Making them more accessible to people farther out is a big impact.”

At Zagreb and Karlovac where they had existing helipads, they were older, in poor condition and were designed older helicopter models. The new helicopter landing zones will allow for larger, more modern helicopters that can travel farther and carry more necessary medical equipment. They will also be able to handle military helicopters, including those from nearby military training grounds should emergency care be required.

While the helicopter landing zones at Zagreb and Karlovac are on land within the hospital grounds, the new helicopter landing zone at Slavonski Brod is being constructed on top of the facility due to space constraints. The project team is working closely with local engineers on the ground to ensure the tall, elevated helipad attachment is able to withstand natural factors like seismic activity and wind as well as what is called the sympathetic response load, which is essentially the transfer of energy that comes from the landing of the helicopter. The Slavonski Brod work also includes designing and building an elevator that’s big enough to carry the gurneys, personnel and whatever else may need to be brought in from the helicopter.

The work on the helicopter landing zone in Zagreb was slightly delayed as the hospital, the nation’s largest, turned its focus to serving as a primary COVID care facility for Croatia when the pandemic began and Tugaoen said that helped drive home the importance of the team’s work to provide improvements to such a critical facility.

“You see how you’re directly affecting the hospital at this point with how important the hospital we’re improving is to the surrounding area and entire country,” Tugaoen said. “For the helipad projects, we have a really good team with the embassy and the contractors and everybody seems to have an understanding that we’re all one team and we’re all trying to deliver the best, highest quality project for the people of Croatia.”

Despite the initial delays associated with COVID, construction is on track and the projects are expected to be turned over and serving the three hospitals the people of Croatia later this year.

“Humanitarian Assistance projects are different than anything else I’ve done,” said Tugaoen, who worked on construction of F-35 facilities and other military construction efforts with Los Angeles District before coming to Europe District. “It’s really cool to represent the U.S. to so many countries that might not interact with us in many other capacities, but now we’re building schools and hospitals, and helipads and clinics and that just feels really fulfilling and impactful. It feels like we’re showing a different face to the world and I’m excited for that.”

The helicopter landing zones are just one current example of the projects the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is delivering in Croatia in close coordination with EUCOM and the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb.

“The U.S.-Croatia partnership is strong and always getting stronger, Taylor said. “This medical project is our largest medical assistance related project, but just one small piece of what we do together.”

Additional ongoing projects being managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in support of EUCOM and coordinated through the U.S. Embassy include re-construction of a school in Delnice in Croatia’s mountainous western region, currently in the design phase, and the Regional Veterans Affairs Center for Mental Health and Psychological Support in Osijek in the east, where construction is ongoing.